News: Blogs

9 January 2017


Blogs: Guest Blog: Capt. Tim Rolfe, Director of Aviation Safety, Bristow Group

Safe flight happens thanks to a system that involves humans, technology, and the operating environment. The safety record of offshore helicopter operations has improved dramatically over the last 20 years – and during that time the introduction of increasingly sophisticated cockpit automation has, undoubtedly, been a major factor in that improvement.

While automation has solved problems and enhanced performance in the cockpit, it has also led to new accident causes; global data shows that poor use of automation is a significant contributor to accident rates and there are significant lessons to be learned from fixed-wing operators who are several years ahead of us in the use of new technology.  

For that reason, HeliOffshore has prioritised an industry-wide collaboration on enhancing the use of automation – and the newly released HeliOffshore training videos and Automation Guidelines are part of that drive.

To deliver the videos, we brought together some of our industry’s most experienced trainers. I want to thank Kevin Lawrence, Dave Denman, Steve Fincken, Robin White, and their colleagues who contributed to the development of the videos and the accompanying Automation Guidelines.  And thanks also to Airbus for donating time in their simulator in Dyce, Aberdeen.

The videos are designed to be used as the basis of discussion and consideration of the numerous issues that are experienced commonly across all types, but also the variation in automation performance by specific type.  Discussion around issues generated by automated technology is a key part of Crew Resource Management training and we strongly encourage the use of these videos to support CRM training programmes and the training of pilot competencies. 

The Automation Guidelines are designed to be the foundation of sound operating practices – it is envisioned that the adoption of these principles to underpin normal and abnormal procedures offers a strong safety enhancement.

Because effective use of automation depends on a series of factors (human performance, capabilities and limitations; the logic, design, and ergonomics of technology; standard operating procedures and training), a number of HeliOffshore led or sponsored actions are underway:

  • Eye-tracking research to better understand how crews monitor automation – which will inform everything from design to training;
  • The development of Flight Crew Operating Manuals (FCOM) to describe the logic and use of automation by aircraft type; and
  • Improvements to Helicopter Terrain Avoidance Warning System (HTAWS) algorithms so crews have increased warning times to prevent collision with obstacles and terrain;
  • Further development of the Automation Guidelines; and
  • Development of a Baseline Evidence-based Training programme (EBT) (including the framework for competency assessment of Automation use) and the regulatory pathway for helicopter operators to gain an EBT approval.

We know that effective use of automation will prevent accidents, so efforts to give crews the tools, systems and processes to fly safely are high priority for everyone across the industry.

You can find out more about our efforts to enhance the use of automation on the HeliOffshore website: and you can email to contribute and participate in the global Safety Programme.